The idea of going back to that bar in SE Portland for a game of this magnitude is really too much. The stress level and the potential for threats of violence toward that annoying fake-accent guy and the woo-girl cause us to gather in an apartment in NoPo instead. Eight of us in red and white.
Everyone brings something to share: donuts, bagels, juice, fruit, but most goes untouched in the kitchen as we gather around the television.
This is Arsenal. This is the FA Cup. This is everything.
Hull goes up by two early and unexpectedly. There’s no way this is how this is supposed to go. Absolutely no way.
But Santi steps up for a free kick and curls one into the upper far corner.
We enter the half still down by one. When Sone Aluko comes on for Hull, I stop breathing for a moment. It was his goal against Celtic in the March 2012 Old Firm match that I wrote about just days ago and it’s replaying over and over in my head. Every time he even comes close to putting a foot to the ball, a voice in my head says,”NOOO.”
A goal from Laurent Koscielny brings the game even and time runs out. Two extra periods are tacked onto the end of the game. The play is tired, slow. The earlier, almost frenetic pace is gone. This is now a game of survival.
The initial fifteen minute period is over. The second begins.
The intensity of those around me is much greater than my own. They’ve suffered with this team longer than I have, some a decade or more into their love affair with Arsenal. At best, and with great apologies to those who’ve coaxed me through my first year of support, Arsenal is my third team.
My heart is at Ibrox, my soul at Providence Park. But, for a time yesterday, my imagination was at Wembley.
In the end, the gentlemen of Arsenal climbed those stairs – 107 stairs, to be precise – and lifted a trophy.
It used to be that I felt I didn’t have room in my life for more than one team. Now I can’t imagine what it was like without them.
So a heartfelt thank you and congratulations to my fellow Gooners: to Jason and Caleb and Grant, to Chris and Eric and Kody and Felicia and all the others. Ninety days until we start all over again.